The Intercontinental Hotel at Hyde Park Arch is not a hotel I would check myself into in London. The standard rooms are more per night than I would normally indulge myself into spending. But, since I wasn’t paying for these rooms, my complimentary 4-night stay a short walk from Harrods, Buckingham Palace, and Oxford Street was perfect for me.
My driver dropped me off and told me I needed to take my paperwork to the Embassy to start the processing. The Saudi Embassy was just around the corner and very easy to spot amongst the million dollar homes and British Security officers with Heckler and Koch automatic rifles and Kevlar vests. I checked into my room first, a modest room with a double bed and a view overlooking the rooms across the way (this was one of those hotels where they have an empty space between all four corridors and not much of a courtyard for some reason). I checked in, freshened up, and ran to the Embassy. What should have been easy… wasn’t.
The Embassy is not where I should have gone. I needed to drop off my paperwork at a postal box on Harley Street, the mailing address of the firm that was verifying my documents. After a frantic phone call finding out this snippet of information I hopped in a taxi and made my way there. I sealed up my package and left it in their mailbox, told by the guy behind the counter that they hadn’t come in for pick-up yet so it wouldn’t be delayed. Relieved, I found another taxi and drove back to my hotel for a nap. I know, lame. My first afternoon in London and I go for a nap.
Although I had been to London, I had never really been a tourist there. Granted, 3 days wasn’t really enough time to see London, but I would try and squeeze in a few sights before I left. My room provided me with breakfast, so I would stuff myself each morning and hope I wouldn’t have to eat too much during the day (I had saved some money but the British pound was then worth more than twice the Canadian dollar so any expenditures would really cripple the bank account). I decided to venture out that night, the Monday, and take a walk along Green Park and see if I could find a little pub or bar to order some food and watch people.
I turned down a street where I saw a large group of people loitering in the street and decided this was the best place for me to be. Bars lined both sides of the street and people just ventured between them, talking to co-workers and old and new friends. I found a spot near the window in one of the bars and ordered a pint. Watching the dynamic from here was interesting. London, on the whole, is a very unfriendly town to a newcomer. Everybody seems to have his or her little group, a trusted alliance, and getting into that group, even for a night or two, is painfully difficult. The cultural diversity is amazing as well. They say 1 out of every 100 people you meet in London is an actual Londoner and I wouldn’t doubt that number.
As I stood by myself I noticed a table of 3 people, 2 guys and a girl, all in their early 20s, all looking like they were having the time of their lives. That was the table I wanted to join. I just walked up to them, introduced myself, told them my situation, and before we knew it we were all getting kicked out at 11 o’clock. The 2 guys, Kurt and Justin were from South Africa and the girl, Marlena, was from the Czech Republic. They had all been in London for a few months and all worked at Henry’s bar and restaurant, just down the street from where I was staying. I now had a local while I was in London.
I went back to the hotel that night and decided I needed 1 more beer at the bar. I ordered a bottle of Heineken and nearly died when they wanted 10 quid for it. My waitress, Myriam, asked me what room I was in and she’d just charge it there. Thinking nothing of it I said the room number. It turns out; she paid for the beer herself, and gave me her email address. Now, a smarter man than I would have seen this as a sign. And maybe I did. And maybe I just thought it wasn’t worth it since I was only there another 3 nights. Again, I had an uncharacteristic attack of chivalry.
I met some family members the next two nights. During the day, I just walked around my local vicinity and did some shopping for some last minute things. By the time Thursday came, the day my visa was supposed to be ready, I was looking forward to starting my new life in Saudi. I headed over to the Saudi Embassy full of hope and promise; all I left with was anger and disillusionment. My visa was not ready. My passport was still with them and they had no answer for me as to when it would be ready. I was at a loss.
My hotel reservation expired the next day. My flight to Saudi was due to leave the Friday morning as well. What the Hell was I supposed to do now? It was 4 in the afternoon UK time, 6 at night in Saudi Arabia. No one was working at that time; Friday was the day off from work as well. I frantically called every number I knew, trying to find someone to help me. Finally, at around 6 at night I received a call to my room from Melinda with the recruitment company who was responsible for getting me to Saudi. My flight had been cancelled, but my stay at the hotel hadn’t been prolonged because no one in a managerial position could be contacted to approve the extension. She asked if I had anywhere to stay for a couple of days.
Luckily, my aunt and uncle that live in London were back from vacation and welcomed me with open arms. I told them it would only be for a couple of days and then I’d head on out to Saudi and start anew. They live near Wimbledon so we spent the Saturday walking throughout the parks and had a picnic in the sunshine. It was nice to take my mind off things – especially in their current state. When we arrived back at their house there was a message on the phone to call Saudi and I did. My stay in London had been extended until the 25th, the hotel booked, and my flights rescheduled. This 10-day extension would be more than enough time to collect my passport and visa – and take in some sights of this exciting city.